Kai-Fu Lee, the founder of the 01.AI startup has ambitious plans to build China’s very own large language model to rival OpenAI’s ChatGPT. This puts him up against significant competition from the likes of Wang Xiaochuan, founder of Sogou, who also has similar plans.

While speaking to TechCrunch in an interview, 61-year-old Lee explained the reasons behind his ambition.

“Unlike the rest of the world, China doesn’t have access to OpenAI and Google because those two companies did not make their products available in China, so I think many doing LLM are trying to do their part in creating a solution for a market that really needs this.”

Seven months after starting his company, Lee is now unveiling 01.AI’s first model called Yi-34B, which is fully open source. Lee says that introducing an open-source AI model in China is his way of giving back to the community. It will also act as an alternative to Meta AI’s LLaMA model.

Yi-34B currently operates in English as well as Chinese and is trained with 34 billion parameters. This makes it much smaller than rival open-source LLMs including Falcon-180B and Meta LlaMa2-70B as per rankings shared by Hugging Face.

But that’s not it as 01.AI has plans to release much larger models over the next few years.

“We feel quite confident as we released models that are 100 billion to 400 billion over the next coming year, year and a half, these models will be dramatically better than today’s model that we announced.”


The Chinese startup has not disclosed how much it has raised since its inauguration, but it is currently valued at an impressive $1 billion after accumulating financing from Sinovation Ventures, Alibaba Cloud, and other undisclosed investors.

At the time of writing, 01.AI has more than 100 employees which consist of LLM experts ranging from Chinese tech firms as well as major multinational names around the globe.

The company’s current vice president has previously worked on the early stages of Google Bard and its chief architect was one of the founders of TensorFlow. There is also a Microsoft Research Asia expert onboard and people who have previously worked in major companies including Huawei and Alibaba.